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Statewide tobacco bill must not water down local efforts

June 18, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Local communities in Pennsylvania have taken the lead in getting tough on illegal tobacco purchases by minors and protecting employees from secondhand smoke in the workplace. Now a group of retailers, with the blessing of tobacco manufacturers, want laws to be standard statewide. Sounds good to us, as long as the standards aren't watered down in the process.

The idea of pre-empting local tobacco laws was raised last Tuesday when the state Senate's Public Health and Welfare Committee backed a bill that would increase fines for the sale of tobacco products to minor - and override local tobacco-control laws.

One of the local laws affected would be a new ordinance in Pittsburgh's Allegheny County that fines merchants who sell tobacco products to children up to $2,000 and includes a provision for possible revocation of their tobacco-sales permits.

The proposed bill would hike the fine for a first offense on tobacco sales to minors to $500 and up to $5,000 for a fourth offense. If three offenses occur within 24 months, tobacco sales licenses could be lifted for 30 days and for 60 days if four offenses take place over five years. The bill would also make it easier for employers to defend themselves, provided they've given employees training and mandated ID checks for tobacco purchases.

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The argument here seems to be that the retailer shouldn't be responsible if trained employees ignore their training and make an illegal sale.

If the retailers' argument is that it's hard to get good help, we would agree. If the argument is that the retailers should get a pass because it's hard to get good help, we strongly disagree.

Tobacco is an addictive product that can threaten one's health if misused. Other substances like that are dispensed by licensed people called pharmacists.

If retailers want to sell tobacco, the legislature needs to make them work harder to find good employees and mandate that they accept some responsibility when workers make errors.

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